Alcohol, pregnancy and chestfeeding

April 6, 2021

Sipping a beer, glass of wine, hard seltzer or mixed drink may seem like a fun way to relax, especially during these uncertain times. But if you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant, no amount of alcohol is safe.

Several research studies have shown that adults are drinking more alcohol since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Can you drink while trying to get pregnant?

If you’re trying to get pregnant, don’t drink alcohol. It can make it harder for you to get pregnant. Alcohol also can cause problems for your baby any time during pregnancy, even before you know that you’re pregnant. You may be pregnant and not know it for 4 to 6 weeks.

How does drinking alcohol during pregnancy affect your baby’s health?

There’s no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy—not even during a worldwide health crisis.

When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, the alcohol in your blood quickly passes through the placenta and the umbilical cord to your baby. Drinking any amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy can increase your baby’s chances of having these problems:

  • Preterm birth. This is when your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm babies may have serious health problems at birth and later in life.
  • Brain damage and problems with growth and development
  • Birth defects, like heart defects, hearing problems or vision problems.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs). Children with FASDs may have a range of problems, including problems with how the brain works that can cause issues with learning, communicating, taking care of themselves or getting along with others. They also may have problems or delays in physical development. Binge drinking during pregnancy increases your chances of having a baby with FASDs.
  • Low birthweight. This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies during pregnancy, before 20 weeks.
  • Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies during pregnancy, after 20 weeks.

Can you pass alcohol to your baby when nursing? 

Yes. Not drinking alcohol while nursing is the safest option.

If you do drink alcohol, wait at least 3 hours after each drink before you nurse your baby.

One drinks is:

  • 12 ounces of 5% beer
  • 8 ounces of 7% malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of 12% wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 40% (80 proof) liquor  

How long alcohol can be found in human milk will increase the more alcohol a pregnant person drinks. In general:

  • Alcohol from 1 drink can be found in human milk for 2 to 3 hours
  • Alcohol from 2 drinks can be found in milk for 4 to 5 hours
  • Alcohol from 3 drinks can be found in milk for 6 to 8 hours

How much alcohol is in your milk and for how long also depends on things such as how fast you drank it, whether you ate while drinking, how much you weigh and how fast your body breaks down alcohol.

How can you stop drinking alcohol?

Alcohol is often part of social activities, like parties and celebrations. You may be used to having a glass of wine with dinner or at the end of a busy day. Giving up alcohol may be hard.

Here are some tips to help you stop drinking:

  • Think about when you usually drink alcohol. Then, make a plan to drink something else, like fruity seltzer or water. Use a fun straw or put an umbrella in the glass to make it seem more fun.
  • Stay away from situations or places where you usually drink, like parties or bars. This is especially important for not getting sick with COVID-19.
  • Try not to have any alcohol in your home. 
  • Tell your partner, friends and family that you’re not drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Ask them to help and support you.

If you need help to stop drinking, you can:

If you’re trying to get pregnant, currently pregnant, or nursing, the only safe amount of alcohol is zero.